By Jade Chalkley
On the 27th of September in 1962, Rachel Carson’s seminal book Silent Spring was released. This book would lead to the formation of legislation that continues to protect natural spaces and the health of communities, and would eventually spark the formation of the modern environmental movement. Three days after the release of her book, a riot would break out on campus at Ole Miss protesting the enrollment of James Meredith.
Though these events occurred in tandem chronologically, for many years the modern environmental movement was commonly seen as separate from the struggle for civil rights and social justice in the United States. Moreover, members of the African American community have long been involved and often been the change makers of environmental activism, but their voices are often silenced or unmarked in history.
Historically, people of color have been displaced and segregated from natural spaces and denied access to clean water and fresh food. To celebrate Black History Month, we would like to recognize some important black environmentalist leaders.
*Please click on the links provided to learn more.*
- Warren Washington: Developed first computer models that allowed scientists to understand the impacts of climate change.
- Robert Bullard: Father of Environmental Justice and author of books covering many environmental and race-related topics.
- Charles Young: 1st African-American National Park Superintendent. As a leader for the Buffalo Soldiers, he and his troop built what is now known as one of the greatest national parks, Sequoia National Park.
- MaVynee Betsch: Gave her life savings, some $750,000, to many environmental organizations and causes, in dedication to her grandparents who founded the first African American Beach in Florida during Jim Crow.
- Majorie Richard: The first African-American to win the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work to compel Shell Chemical to reduce their Toxic emissions while contributing over 5 million dollars to community rehabilitation and development.
- John Francis: Goodwill ambassador to the world’s grassroots communities appointed by the United National Environment Program.
- Edward Miles: Key contributor to United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and one of the first four African Americans inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. Founder of the “Climate Impacts Group.”
- Van Jones: CNN Political Commentator and Author of the Green Collar Economy. Van Jones worked as a green jobs policy advisor in the white house that helped lead job development and skill training in the green energy sector. He is the founder of “Green For All.”
- Majora Carter: Worked to integrate sustainable projects and development into the low-income neighborhoods of the Bronx. She spearheaded the development of parks and environmental rehabilitation efforts. She is the founder of “Sustainable South Bronx.”
- Rue Mapp: Founder and CEO of “Outdoor Afro,” a not for profit organization working to connect African Americans with outdoor adventures.
- DJ Canvem Moetevation: Vegan Chef and educator. Founder of “Going Green, Living Bling” an organization that teaches kids how to grow, prepare, cook, and sell fresh food.
- Carolyn Finney: Author of “Black Faces, White Spaces.” She served on the U.S. National Parks Advisory Board for eight years which assists the National Park Service in engaging in relations of reciprocity with diverse communities.
These are only a few of the countless activists and change makers that have made strides in environmental work from the black community. To learn more, we encourage you to participate in the programming provided by the UM Center for Inclusion for Black History Month 2019.